Last week, I had a conversation with a young woman who had just finished reading my autobiography, ‘Speaking Above a Whisper’. She said the chapter that intrigued her the most was the one in which I described some of the influences that shaped my life from an early age. The chapter she was referring to is chapter three called ‘Choices’. I have decided to share an abridged version with you.

 My mother was the oldest of thirteen children.  My maternal grandfather, Pa Awoseye, had three wives. My father never got on with Pa Awoseye. My father felt that my grandfather had too many wives and had given birth to more children than he could afford to educate and care for properly. When we got back from England, my mother sent for one of her younger sisters, Auntie Ore to join her in Lagos. Auntie Ore did well in school, and when she finished her O’ Levels, my father got her a job in the civil service. When I started secondary school, my mother took in two other sisters, Durotola and Sola Awoseye. I was particularly close to Duro who was one year older than me, Sola was two years older. They were from different mothers, but had  been brought up communally. When my grandfather was told that my father had complained about the number of children he was having to bring up for him directly and indirectly, my grandfather retorted that it was his daughters presence in my father’s house that made it possible for me to go to University. My father was so furious with his in-law he did not speak to him for a long time. One day my father sat me down and made me promise that I would never marry a man from a large family. He said I would never be happy because my husband and I would spend all our resources and time attending to family problems.

In addition to my three maternal aunts, there was Auntie Cecilia who was an apprentice at the hairdressing salon where my mum worked. Auntie Cecilia needed a place to stay, and my mum was sympathetic to her plight. My mum brought Auntie Cecilia to live with us and she stayed for almost seven years. She was sweet and kind, and she was very fond of me.

There was also our maid Auntie Aduke. My parents made it clear that our maid was to be treated with respect and like a member of the family. Auntie Aduke became an apprentice dressmaker, and when she completed her training, my parents paid for her sewing machine and other tools of the trade. We all had chores assigned to us. My task was to wake up early every morning to wash my father’s car. The other tasks such as sweeping, cooking and laundry were shared amongst the other girls. The older ones mostly did the cooking, though as we got older we took over.

Auntie Ore, Aduke and Cecilia were all much older than Duro, Sola and I. We loved listening to the stories of the Aunties, particularly their romantic dramas. I began to question some of their positions about men, marriage and the role of women. Unlike what my father had been telling me, they believed that men knew everything and women had very few choices. I found these fatalistic opinions problematic and would insist that there had to be a way for women to say no to unfairness.

There was another Auntie who lived in the house next door. Her name was Auntie Bola. She was a student at the nearby Yaba Polytechnic. Her husband had been our neighbor for a long time.  I loved being around Auntie Bola because she was very nice and fun to be with. Duro and I would finish our chores and go and hang out with Auntie Bola. As soon as her husband came home, Autie Bola would become a different person, nervous and fidgety. I would get the message and leave immediately her husband walked in. Auntie Bola managed to finish her Higher National Diploma (HND) at Yaba Polytechnic. She was pregnant for most of the time she was in school, and she had three children in five years. Her husband was very abusive. When she started work, if she came home later than he liked, he would lock her out of the house. She would then come over to our house to ask my father to intercede on her behalf.

There was a time I was working at Ikeja on the Lagos Mainland. I had decided to stop visiting her at home because of her husband. If I happened to be on Lagos Island where she was working at the High Court, I would visit her in the office. One day I went to have lunch with her and she told me that her husband had quarreled with her the night before over some business cards he found in her handbag. She explained that they were from clients but he would not listen. She was afraid to go home. I assured her that everything would be ok, and if there was a problem my parents would help. That night, as was his practice, her husband locked her out. When Auntie Bola came round to ask for help, my mum told me to go with her and tell her husband that my dad was in bed and would see him the next day. I went with Auntie Bola to see her husband.  When we got in, I started appealing to him to let her in and my father would see him the next day. He then asked me if she told me what she had done. I said yes, that she had told me that he discovered business cards in her handbag. I expected him to say that she was lying and then accuse her of a very serious offence. He said, Yes, that is what happened. What is she doing with men’s business cards? I could not believe what I was hearing. I tried to point out that if she had wanted to hide them, she would not have left them in her bag. He told me not to be silly. He then looked at her and said, See how she is standing there. She is not even sorry. Put your hands behind your back!  I was dying to get out of there. Auntie Bola and I both knelt down to beg him. He then seemed to calm down and I left, thinking to myself, if this is what being married is all about then I want no part of it.

I however knew that marriage was not meant to be like that because I had never seen my father talk to my mother with disrespect. Years later, when I was in England, I heard that he beat her till he broke her ribs. She left him and went back to school. She is now a Lawyer, I saw her a few years ago and she is a totally different woman now.

I have spoken about my relationship with Auntie Bola over the years and how this helped shape my convictions about women’s choices. At the time, she thought that she had very little choice as a young woman with three children. Where would she take them to? How would she fend for them? Yet when she was left with the choice of staying with an abusive husband who might make her a corpse any day or leaving in one piece, she chose to leave and live. Women should not have to make lousy choices, women deserve to live with dignity. No woman should have to endure humiliation in her own home, standing with her hands behind her back like a school girl. Auntie Bola’s eventual success story is a vindication of my theory of change with regards to the empowerment of women- if women are given opportunities to make affirming choices, they will become productive citizens who will in turn build healthy communities.

All my Aunties were unlucky with the choices they made when it came to men. One of them  became the second wife of a civil servant who managed to convince her that his wife had left but which turned out not to be true. He spent most of their years together shuttling back and forth between the two of them, leaving her to take most of the responsibility of bringing up their three children. Another Aunt ended up with a laggard who worked as a casual labourer at the Apapa Ports and who was squatting in a room in his cousin’s house near ours in Fadeyi. He had no education, no job, no accommodation.  The only thing he truly owned was his smooth tongue.

One of my Aunties got pregnant at nineteen and, because the man responsible was the younger brother of a family friend, a wedding was hastily arranged. A few years later he took off for London and left her with two children including one with sickle cell anemia. My aunt has not seen him in twenty five years. Another Auntie fell in love with a handsome businessman. They had two children and then they separated. For years, this Aunt struggled to provide for her two children and send them to school.

I remember my mother being very disappointed in all these poor choices my Aunts made. She advised them to take their time before deciding on a spouse, but probably because they thought all their peers were getting married and they did not want to leave it till too late, they did not heed her advice. My mother had a large collection of beautiful dishes. She would arrange them in glass cabinets or on shelves and I always admired them. Whenever any of my Aunts was getting married, she would give them something from her collection. Over time her magnificent collection was depleted. I asked her once what she would have left to give to me when it was my turn to get married. She said, they need it more than you do. I did not understand then. Now I do. In all my homes, I keep a collection of nice crockery partly because I do like nice dishes and also as a tribute to my wise mother.

There was a time I asked my father why my Aunties were having such a rough time with their marriages. They were all hard working, well brought up and had good manners. My father thought that it was because they had little negotiating power. He said to me, No man can treat you badly. You are smart and you can take care of yourself. You will never be a liability to any man. You will be treated with respect. I thought about what he had told me, and I knew that his theory would only be proven right if I did well in school and did not put myself in a situation where I too would end up with having to make poor choices. My experience of growing up with all these strong, yet vulnerable women, served to instill in me the fear of academic failure. I had to not only do well, I had to excel. Nothing short of excellence would be good enough for me. I was never going to stand with my hands behind my back.

Details of how you can get my books ‘Speaking above a Whisper’ and ‘Speaking for myself’ are on the Above Whispers website.

Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi is a Gender Specialist, Social Entrepreneur and Writer. She is the Founder of Abovewhispers.com, an online community for women. She can be reached at BAF@abovewhispers.com





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8 Responses to LOUD WHISPERS: Choices

  1. Femi January 24, 2017 at 8:59 am

    I really have to get the book, it’s been wonderful getting to know you this way ma. Perhaps, whatever happens to any man or woman eventually is a product of their conscious and subconscious choices

  2. D'apoet January 24, 2017 at 9:07 am

    I’ve come to look forward to reading from you every week, the artistry, creativity, wit and the willful spirit underlying every thought and statement. I think life has a way of pushing some of us into making the most ridiculous of choices. Some women probably think they had no choice than to make those wrong choices and same with most men.

  3. Olakunle Olajide January 24, 2017 at 9:55 am

    The excerpts from your book is enticing already, especially when it comes to choosing the right partner. That word choice is something we go through every single day of our lives. I pray for tge Grace to always make the right choice, and not to concede to the factors around me.

  4. Leggy January 24, 2017 at 9:58 am

    Speaking above a whisper.. Hmm! There is depth in the name of this book. Will include this in my collections by God’s grace.

  5. Fredrick Fiarad January 24, 2017 at 10:09 am

    What a great article…. I personally think many women out there suffer, and subject themselves to wrong hands thinking they had little or no choices at all – due to ignorance…..

    Great article… This needs to be broadcasted…..

  6. Timi Cloe January 24, 2017 at 10:12 am

    God bless you Ma. For sharing this excerpt from your book with us.

    I was blessed by it as a lady. I do need to lay my hands on the full book .

    God bless Abovewhispers

  7. Bamisebi Toluwalope January 27, 2017 at 12:26 pm

    Waoh….. What a beautiful Excerpt from your book ma. Looking forward to lay my hands on the full book.
    CHOICES, May God grant us the great grace to make the right choices at every point in time on our lives…. Really felt sad for all the aunties that made the wrong choices, after their hardwork. May we never be victims of failed marriages ijn
    God bless you ma.
    Please abovewhispers.com, how can I get the book.

  8. DSEED February 2, 2017 at 11:10 am

    The earlier the better we realise that life is all about choice.


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